But the truth is, even at a young age children are not without concerns. Already in their classes at school, somebody will be somebody else’s best friend. Another child will be experiencing rejection.
Most of their ‘art work’ will be splodges of paint thrown randomly onto paper, but in one child’s painting, the outline of a cow, a horse and the beginning of a whole farmyard can be identified. Other children (and a fair few parents) will cast wistful eyes at the masterpiece. And so the competition begins.
We try to please our parents, impress our teachers and act in a way that makes our friends accept us. The pressures of the playground follow many of us through our lives. Outwardly, we may seem self-assured, but we cannot shake off the gnawing feeling that at heart we don’t match up to the expectations of others. When we slip into this way of thinking, our mood and enthusiasm for new tasks can be deeply affected by what other people seem to think of us. We are at the mercy of the chance morsel of praise and also, of course, the dreadful spectre of somebody’s displeasure.
We do a job – it could be at the office, at church or at home – and sense it has gone reasonably well; in fact, many people tell us they appreciated what we did. But one person says something negative, and it is that comment that we simply cannot get out of our minds. It makes us feel we never want to write another report, preach another sermon or cook another meal for the rest of our days.
When those thoughts take over, we become more concerned with what people think than with what God thinks. The apostle Paul urges us not to make that mistake: ‘Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God?...If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ’ (Galatians 1:10).
The reason Paul uses such strong language is that when we are always looking over our shoulders wondering what others are making of our lives we actually become their servants; we exist to please them. One woman said: ‘I have spent
50 years – half a century – imprisoned in other people’s opinions of my life.’ Breaking out of that prison is no easy task, but unless we do so we can never know either true effectiveness in our service for God or peace in our hearts.
The following words hung on the wall of Mother Teresa’s office. Consider having the last line engraved into your bedroom ceiling so you see the words as you wake, and so that they burn into your soul at night:
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centred. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway...
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.